The History of Super Mario RPG | Gaming Historian

The History of Super Mario RPG | Gaming Historian

In 1996, North America was introduced to
a new Mario game on the Super Nintendo.
But it wasn’t just any Mario game.
It was a role-playing game.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
It seemed like an odd idea.
Mario in an RPG setting?
Mario had been in a lot of different genres.
Puzzle games, sports, kart racers, edutainment.
But an RPG might have been
the last genre on people’s minds
when it came to the Italian plumber.
But Super Mario RPG was a hit,
and it’s considered not only one
of the best Super Nintendo games,
but also one of the best RPGs ever made.
In Business Insider’s list of
the top 10 Super Mario games,
Super Mario RPG is ranked #9.
IGN placed it at #10 on it’s Top
100 Super Nintendo Games list.
Notable JRPG fan and Kotaku writer Jason Schreier
lists the game as one of his “JRPGs You Must Play.”
Super Mario RPG was the result of Square and Nintendo
collaborating during their prime.
Together, they created something very special.
Super Mario RPG is filled with memorable characters,
a unique battle system,
hilarious dialogue,
fun side quests,
pleasant visuals
and unforgettable moments.
Let’s take a look at this classic title
and the impact it left on gamers and the industry.
Video game developer Square was known
for making high quality role-playing games,
most notably their Final Fantasy series.
Electronic Gaming Monthly
called them “the master of RPGs.”
Square’s games sold well in Japan
and were a hit with critics.
However, sales in the Western market
didn’t meet expectations.
In late 1992, following disappointing sales
of Final Fantasy II in North America,
Square created a simplified
RPG for western audiences
with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.
But people didn’t bite.
The game only sold about 400,000 copies.
Two years later, Final Fantasy VI,
or Final Fantasy III in North America,
sold more than 2.5 million units
in Japan within a few months,
making it their best selling
game of all time up to that point.
Critics heaped praise on the game,
calling it “the greatest RPG of all time”
and “a must-own for Super Nintendo fans.”
But once again, sales in the Western
market did not meet expectations.
Square needed to break through in the West.
It was a challenge they
couldn’t conquer on their own.
So they sought the help of the most
popular video game character of all time.
While Square struggled in the Western market,
Nintendo was riding high.
Their Super Nintendo console was
beginning to outsell the rival Sega Genesis.
Children recognized their flagship mascot, Mario,
more often than Mickey Mouse.
Super Mario World sold more than 20 million units.
Even spinoff games like
Super Mario Kart were a huge success,
selling over 8 million copies.
Mario seemed invincible.
Shigeru Miyamoto,
Nintendo’s most well-known
game designer, and Mario’s creator,
was eager to try the Italian
plumber in other genres,
including RPGs.
So in 1994, when Square approached Nintendo
about collaborating on a new game,
Miyamoto was interested.
He was a fan of the company and their work.
During the pitch meeting at Square headquarters,
Square presented Miyamoto and his staff
with a picture of a caped Mario
holding a sword atop a horse.
It made sense, considering the source.
Most of Square’s role-playing games
had a medieval fantasy setting.
But Miyamoto gave them a puzzled
look and said, “That’s not right.”
He mentioned Mario might have
a hammer, but not a sword.
The two companies had intense
discussions about the use of characters,
story and setting.
Eventually, they agreed to make the game,
their first collaborative project with each other.
Square began development in the Summer of 1994.
Nintendo pitched in with creative consulting
to ensure the game had the Nintendo and Mario flair.
Director duties were given to
Square employees Yoshihiko Maekawa
and Chihiro Fujioka.
Fujioka previously worked on
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest,
Squares first attempt to appeal to Western audiences.
He recalled the relationship
with Nintendo as being, quote,
“very close and favorable.”
Shigeru Miyamoto would
come in often to meet and talk,
as well as provide suggestions on gameplay .
Fujioka said that Miyamoto had two
main points of advice in his consulting.
One was to, quote, “Keep an eye on
handling Mario’s entry into the RPG world
without destroying the Mario universe.”
The other was to make the game fun.
At first, Super Mario RPG looked
like a traditional Square RPG,
a top-down view with 2D sprites.
Square perfected this look,
pushing the limitations of what the
Super Nintendo could do with the perspective.
But after seeing Rare and
Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country,
Square was eager to try something new:
pre-rendered graphics.
They shifted from the 2D perspective
to an isometric perspective.
This required some extra hardware power to work,
so Nintendo suggested they
integrate the SA1 chip into the game.
The SA1 chip had four times the processing
power of the Super Nintendo’s CPU
and faster RAM.
This allowed quicker calculations to render the graphics
and show more characters on-screen.
Square developed the look using the
same Silicon Graphics workstations
that Rare used to make Donkey Kong Country.
By the Summer of 1995,
Square had a working prototype,
but they couldn’t decide whether to
give Mario weapons and magic attacks
or his signature hammer and jump moves.
According to director Chihero Fujioka,
he and Miyamoto confirmed their
decision at the 1995 V Jump Festival,
where they unveiled the game
to the public for the first time.
Fujioka asked the audience to
applaud for the option they liked best:
Mario fighting with swords and magic
or hammers and jumps.
The audience overwhelmingly chose the latter.
With the game nearing completion,
a beta build arrived at the Nintendo
of America offices in late 1995.
It took the staff by surprise.
A few thought it was a silly idea
and were surprised by the RPG battle system menus.
In the November 1995 issue of Nintendo Power,
one writer commented,
When it came time to translate the game for the West,
notable Square localizer Ted Woolsey,
known for his translations of
Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana,
got the job.
Since their offices were down
the street from each other,
Nintendo’s product analysis team
periodically met with Woolsey
to make corrections and ensure the game
had that signature Nintendo personality.
In 1996 the world finally got to play
what would become a classic
game for the Super Nintendo:
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
It was released on March 9, 1996 in Japan
and May 13, 1996 in North America.
In Japan, the game came with
a coupon to get ¥4,000 off,
or about $37 off,
the purchase of a Super Famicom system.
This was perhaps an effort by Nintendo
to sell through back-stock of consoles
before the release of the Nintendo 64.
Unfortunately, Europe would not
see the game until years later.
Nintendo software analyst Jim Wornell
said that the European release
was nixed for several reasons:
the time it would take to do another translation,
the added cost of the SA1 chip
and low projected sales all factored into the decision.
Super Mario RPG was released just
four months before the Nintendo 64,
at the height of the Super Nintendo’s popularity.
For many gamers, including myself,
it was a great holdover until the Nintendo 64.
Plus, it was new Mario game.
We had to get our hands on it.
However, I don’t think anyone anticipated
just how popular and impactful it would become.
Super Mario RPG begins just
like every other Mario game.
Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by Bowser,
and you have to rescue her.
But during the fight between Mario and Bowser,
a giant sword falls out of the sky
and crashes into Bowser’s castle,
scattering everyone into different directions.
Mario soon learns that this is
the work of the Smithy gang,
who have not only taken over the world,
but destroyed Star Road
which helps grant people’s wishes.
Mario and the gang must recover seven star pieces
to rebuild Star Road and defeat Smithy.
Along the way, Mario meets new
characters who join his party.
There’s Mallow, a cloud who
seems to think he is a tadpole.
A star spirit who takes the
form of a doll, known as Geno.
Even Princess Toadstool and Bowser join your party.
There’s also a ton of memorable
non-playable characters
that you will meet along the way.
One of my favorite parts of Super Mario RPG
has always been the characters and their interactions.
Some of the lines are great,
and the character expressions are very impressive
for a 16-bit tilte.
It’s a very funny game.
According to director Chihiro Fujioka,
many of the staff members who worked on the game
were fans of standup comedy.
It’s also a gorgeous game.
There is no doubt that Super Mario RPG
is one of the best-looking
games on the Super Nintendo.
Square was definitely stepping
out of their comfort zone,
but it paid off.
Everything is bright and colorful,
and the isometric view works
well without any slowdown.
Gameplay is a mix of traditional RPG and action RPG.
There’s menus, items, equipment, hit points,
experience, battle commands, etc.,
all staples of a traditional
Japanese role-playing game.
But the battle system incorporates a timing mechanic
when attacking and defending.
If you time it right, you can hit
the A button while attacking
to deal extra damage,
or hit the B button while
defending to reduce damage.
According to director Yoshihiko Maekawa,
this unique battle system was inspired
by a Japanese children’s toy.
He said:
Square also incorporated
platforming into the game because…
what’s a Mario game without some platforming?
There are hidden treasure chests, coins to collect,
and obstacles that Mario must
traverse by running and jumping.
Instead of random battles, enemies appear on-screen.
There are also minigames
scattered throughout the world.
Yoshi races, a mine cart maze,
running on barrels down a river,
collecting coins in a waterfall,
and many more.
The soundtrack, a combination of remixed
Mario tunes and original compositions,
was composed by Yoko Shimomura.
She had previously worked for Capcom,
where she composed the soundtrack to
the popular Street Fighter II arcade game.
When she wanted to pursue more classical style music,
she left Capcom for Square.
Shimormua considers Super Mario RPG
a turning point in her career.
Nintendo and Square did a great job
ensuring the player felt like
they were in the Mario universe.
Everything you would expect is here.
Goombas, Toad, flowers, mushrooms,
warp pipes and Hammer Brothers.
Nintendo even threw in a few
Easter eggs throughout the game.
Square threw in a few as well,
most notably Culex,
an optional boss that wouldn’t be out of place
in a Final Fantasy game.
It’s amazing what Square and Nintendo were able to fit
in this whopping 32 megabit cartridge.
Upon its release, Super Mario RPG:
Legend of the Seven Stars
received rave reviews.
GamePro magazine gave it a
perfect score, commenting,
“Once you pick this one up, you’re hooked!”
Electronic Gaming Monthly was similarly impressed,
calling it “a masterpiece.”
Super Mario RPG combines the role-playing elements
of Final Fantasy with the world of Mario flawlessly.
The game was a commercial success as well.
More than 2 million units were sold
at a retail price of $75.
Square was ecstatic about the numbers.
Yusuke Hirata, one of the producers,
said that the series would likely continue
on Nintendo’s upcoming
console, the Nintendo 64.
However, those hopes were dashed
when Nintendo and Square had a falling out.
Due to Nintendo’s insistence on
sticking with cartridge-based media,
Square shifted its focus to
the CD-based Sony PlayStation
for more artistic freedom.
This essentially eliminated
any hope for a true sequel.
Although Square was out of the picture,
Nintendo still went forward with the idea.
They teamed up with Intelligent Systems
and worked on a sequel,
Super Mario RPG 2.
Possibly due to legal issues with Square,
they renamed the game Paper Mario.
Released on the Nintendo 64,
the game borrowed several
elements from Super Mario RPG,
mainly the action timing-based battle system
and the humorous dialogue and plot.
But Nintendo was able to make
the game stand out on its own
with its unique paper book visual style.
It became its own popular franchise
and is still around today.
But believe it or not, there is
another Mario RPG-inspired game
in the form of the Mario & Luigi series.
Once again, the game series borrows
the action timing-based battle system,
as well as the humor.
The handheld series of games
was developed by AlphaDream,
a company with many former Square employees.
One of them is Chihiro Fujioka,
the director of Super Mario RPG.
Music for the series is composed by
Super Mario RPG composer, Yoko Shimomura.
Even with two spiritual successors,
fans still clamor for a true
sequel to Super Mario RPG.
However, Square Enix holds
a lot of the rights to the game,
so it would take some licensing and legal hurdles
to make something happen.
There are a few references to the game in other titles.
Geno makes an appearance in
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga,
and as a Mii Fighter costume in Super Smash Bros.
But that’s about it.
In 2008, Europeans were finally able to play the game
when Nintendo released Super Mario RPG
on the Virtual Console.
Super Mario RPG left quite an impact.
For many fans of the Mario series,
it was their introduction to the RPG,
and it made them permanent fans of the genre.
It was also Square’s big break in the Western market.
Super Mario RPG outsold
all of their previous releases
on the Super Nintendo,
and helped them see what works
and what doesn’t in the West.
Super Mario RPG is a classic.
If you don’t already have it on Super Nintendo,
it’s readily available on Nintendo’s
Virtual Console service.
We may never see a true sequel to the game.
But sometimes…
it’s best to go out on top.
That’s all for this episode
of “The Gaming Historian.”
Thanks for watching!
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100 thoughts on “The History of Super Mario RPG | Gaming Historian”

  1. Happy 21st Birthday, Super Mario RPG! This was the first role-playing game I ever beat. I have so many fond memories of the game. Making this episode was an absolute joy.

    My goal is that if you have not played this game, watching the video will convince you to give it a shot. Enjoy!

  2. Just started playing Mario and Luigi partners in time on the ds. Pretty fun game, wish i would have tried this game back in the day, can always emulate it i guess

  3. This games brings back some great childhood memories i would give anything for a remastered version or a direct sequel

  4. Mario RPG was great. I loved the graphics style and the mix of classic Mario with all new stuff. Some enemies felt like they would never mix with Mario while others felt like they fit right in.

    Current Mario RPGs have become boring. Gone are the days of original characters, replaced by endless Toads and ShyGuys.

  5. Paper Mario was good until the paper aspect took over. Originally it was just an art style, but now its a plot device.

  6. To slide so far into the pit with SMRPG then the wretched Paper Mario with it's forced mechanics and minimization of RPG elements. At least Mario & Luigi series came back towards doing things better, though admittedly the Gamecube game is the one standout Paper Mario that is actually good, even great.

  7. I threw this game on my SNES classic edtn. It’s really fun to play to this day. This was back in the days when studios would actually try and create new and unheard of ip’s.
    I’ll play modern games from time to time but I have more fun with the classics lately. The industry needs a modern renascence of new and fresh ideas. I understand why it’s not happening though, the multi-million dollar development cost makes creating something fresh a potentially dangerous and devastating proposition should it fail. I find the indi scene is all that’s left for new ideas. (I know 98% are terrible games) but at least they are willing to try new things.

  8. The battle between Mario and company on the one hand and the Smithy Gang on the other makes sense in hindsight now that I have that rejected "Mario on a horse" image in my head. To me, the weapons' defeat is the personification of Square coming to terms with the game SMRPG had to be.

  9. When I first played it, I didn't understand it. Oddly enough, I didn't get into it until after I played FF6 and Chrono Trigger. Then I absolutely fell in love with it.

  10. not sure if you've covered it, but why did SNES games change the cartridge from having a single divot, in early games, to having the scoop, as featured in the Mario RPG cart?

  11. "Master of the RPGs"

    That quote didn't age well…

    Square Enix is now the Japanese Activision. They churn out the same repetitive shit as Activision's Call of Duty series.

  12. Looks cool. Is it an rpg though? I mean, if I try to pretend to be Mario, all I can think is 'save the Princess'.

  13. True. Super Mario RPG was my first ever RPG game i've ever played and completed. the memories! still though, i'm not into turn based rpgs but i love the Mario and Luigi games. i guess i just like having some control of the action.

  14. I played it one year after release I was really reluctant, but reading a lot of positive stuff on Magazines (yes, no internet back then) I rented it, but I kept the game for an entire week playing 10 hours per day, until I got to the final stages, ran out of money and I had to return the game, i never saw the ending, I'll go back again some day and finish this once and for all

  15. Since square in ex especially cause were created paper Mario I wonder if Nintendo and screenings will get together to make a paper Mario design by the screen next team did David pretty interesting if they do

  16. "We may never see a true sequall to the game." … NINTENDO AND SQAURE ARE TEAMING UP AGAIN 🙂 NOW THERE IS A CHANCE FOR YOU SMRPG FANS 🙂

  17. Ted Woolsey Syndrome. Pearl = Holy. It plagues Square Enix to this day. Screw that fucker! There were better people lined up for the job, but this bastard played dirty every time to get his way.

  18. One of my absolute favorite games as a kid. Three of us would get together and pass-n-play the battles, controlling one character each, sorta making it into a multiplayer game. I fantasized about new worlds and other characters constantly for months and months. This game was the absolute shit!

  19. 10:44 That pretty much explains why I don't really care for MMORPGs. THIS was what I grew up on. It's taking a big dump of confirmation bias, but it's no less true that you couldn't sell me so easily those MMO's that never really had the same kind of engagement.

  20. I fixed your intro:
    "In 1996, North America was introduced to a new Mario game on the Super Nintendo, but it wasn't just any Mario game…it was one of the best Mario games and RPG's to ever exist."

  21. 10:35 "…large laptop with these buttons that would play music. You had to press the buttons with good timing to the music." – Yoshihiko
    Early form of guitar hero or rockband? haha

  22. This game was not a thing here in Europe at all. Also, when the game has better hardware than the console…lol. Insane times.

  23. Super Mario RPG was my favorite game on
    The super nintendo and even the new mario
    RPG games thank you sqaruesoft/sqarue enix…


    Remember that petition to have Nintendo and Square Enix back together again to both remake Super Mario RPG/make a sequel to Super Mario RPG and have Geno and Mallow appear in more Mario games? Well, it turns out the people behind that petition weren't kidding around, since they just launched their official website! Not only that, but they also opened up a bunch of social media accounts, too! "Operation StarFall" is now officially a-go, so if you want Geno in Smash Bros., or just more Mario RPG, I suggest you follow these guys!

    Official Operation StarFall website:
    The original petition:
    Facebook group:

    A tumblr account is also coming soon. #SuperMarioRPG #OperationStarFall #Geno #Mallow

  25. This is my absolute favorite Mario game! After World, I wasn't too interested in Mario games. This is still the case lol. Think I'll go play Legend of the 7 Stars again though.

  26. Super Mario RPG 2 I heard was going to be an N64 game but was caned after Nintendo couse to not go with CD-ROM.

  27. *sniff sniff The nostalgia. Can't believe it's 23 years old. Why are there always ninjas cutting onions when I get nostalgic?

  28. See, what makes Nintendo games so good all the time though; is that the CEOs and people making the decisions are PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR GAMES. You think EA CEOs know anything about their games, characters or what gamers want? Of course not. When the people that actually know what they are about are in charge, you get good quality games and titles.

  29. On the topic of Silicon Graphics,could you cover some PC,Commodore and Atari Computer games and the story of the 3dfx.

  30. MARIO RPG was like perma out in 96 rental stores, This game caused alot of Rental Drama I started this trend of " Pre-Renting" the game as a kid where i'd pay the clerk to shelve it when it came back and call me. me and other kids used to have this game OUT for weeks on end. its a wonder they didn't buy a 2nd copy. No joke people started tracking down who was renting it. if those old ladies that worked there were still alive they'd have a hoot how me and my grandma probably bought that game 3 times with as much as I rented it. + late fees.

  31. I was playing Logical Journey of the Zoombinis at the time. At that time if you looked past main stream school you 'd find a lot of neat edutainment games. I am not sure why Nintendo flubbed Mario's Time Machine really. They could look at a lot of edutainment on the PC like Yobi's Basic Spelling Tricks Advanced Spelling Tricks: AKA: Spelling Jungle,Blizzard, or Toggle Trouble Math,Mighty Math Rangers or something like that I can't remember the title. Schools got stuck on Reader Rabbit putting a bad taste to educational games.

  32. I wonder if all Nintendo knew about was Reader Rabbit and assumed all edutainment had to be like that? What they didn't know was the good edutainment titles had adventures and/or clickables full of surprises. Reader Rabbit had neither of those. Dad got me into edutainment and purposely steered me away from even Reader Rabbit because of how lame it is. He once saw it at school as we played it for a total of 5 mins in some barn scene counting chickens and some scene of counting carrots. A Barney counting game literally stole the barn scene from Reader Rabbit and changed the colors a bit.

  33. Mario Paint was actually more in the right path but lacked sharing or teaching features. For example Mario Paint Composer could actually have (simple) lessons that advance by age group. If they wanted to they could even teach chords,scales.etc while still having it's fun mode if you are not interested in learning. Nintendo has a LOT of potential for going into the education market but they have to do it in a way that won't make them be viewed as another Reader Rabbit or nobody will buy it no matte HOW good the title is if they fail at advertising it correctly.

  34. Sales numbers do not tell you the whole story. You can have a game with good sales but if people didn't like it they will have high returns. I don't see that ever being counted. A good example was Skyward Sword had high sales initially because people had high expectations of a Wii Zelda but it fell short in a lot of areas (but has VERY good dungeons) which sadly that's the entire game. If I wanted a game that is one big dungeon I'd buy Dark Souls that's NOT why I get Zelda. I see the same with Link's Awakening since the models are so sterile with little to no facial animation. WW ha(s)d. great facial animation despite it's silly graphics there's quite a bit in there that would look out of place if it was realistic.

  35. This and the first paper mario are in my top 10 video games of all time. I absolutely love them. They need to make new ones that are the same style.

  36. Interestingly enough, I got both this and Final Fantasy 3 (6) at the exact same time at the end of the Super Nintendo's lifespan. I didn't realize that Final Fantasy underperformed because everyone I knew played and loved that game as well. Then just a year later, Final Fantasy 7 was released and there was no way I was picking an N64 over a PSOne.

  37. My friend was obsessed with this game when we were kids. I never beat it, I got up to the cloud city and quit.

    I prefer Paper Mario N64 (Thousand Year Door is a chore and I hated playing it)

  38. I wasn't aware of this game until the Virtual Console. I have since gotten as far as the end boss, which I can't seem to beat.

  39. I have noticed you often use Mega Bit when you mean Mega byte. This is like confusing inches and feet. A mega but is 8 times smaller than a megabyte and colloquialy a Megabit (Mb) is a unit of speed short for Megabit per second or Mbps while a Megabyte (MB0 is just a unit of storage. I would recommend you be mindful of this in future videos.

  40. I give the game an f. Think about this, in uncharted you play the game and your reward is seeing the story. Same here, except here the gameplay sucks and is not fun. Thers are alot of fun rpgs with fun combat systems. This one is not one of them. I actively dread combat, its slow and boring and tedious. The story in no way justifies playing the game. Just watch the plot on youtube, it is a better experienced then the game.

  41. People always inflate nintendo games, a 7 would get a 10 if its a nintendo game. See zelda skyward sword and twilight princess.

  42. I could talk about this game more, but all that's worth mentioning here is this game's seeming effect in my life as a crystallization of my childhood happiness, or an incarnation of it. Playing it, seeing it, hearing it – I'm instataneously happy. As time goes by, and my sensibilities and views and tastes and everything about me changes, and I get tired of other things, and then revisit them later, this game stays consistent; frozen in time as always being hip, always being loved, always being enjoyable. It must have just been the perfect time in my life to experience this type of game for the first time, be Mario, a beloved and hip childhood brand, and be this creative and enjoyable of a game. Even from the very first time I seen it in 1996 before I'd get to play it in 1998. I'm eternally a kid when I play this game. I'm not really a big fan of the indulgence of nostalgia, but I'll always love this game. And I'll love it more than Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger even after playing them

  43. This is also the last time the Princess's name was her proper name before it got turned in to Peach

  44. You know that I still don't know what's going on with that enemy that runs away on Star Hill?

  45. The bid worked. Super Mario RPG was my first RPG, my brother had it, and once I popped it in, I could not stop playing.
    Been a jrpg fan since, ran all the classics multiple times, own them in multiple different versions. ♥

  46. I really, really liked this video buuuuuuut…where did you get that mazing shirt?! Are there other ones with the different classes?! Asking for a friend… ;>.>

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